First Aces-Liberty superteam game highlights WNBA’s monumental week

NEW YORK — It’s time.

The first super-teams meeting is Thursday night when the New York Liberty visit the Michelob Ultra Arena to take on the Las Vegas Aces (10 p.m. ET, Prime Video). This is the first of four meetings between the teams named as preseason favorites for the WNBA Finals.

The highly anticipated game will cap off the toughest week of the season for New York, which beat the fourth-place Washington Mystics in overtime on Sunday and will play second-place Connecticut Sun on Tuesday before flying across the country on short notice. . The Aces have two days off after their second game in three days after hosting the Indiana Fever on Monday night. They close out their season streak with the Sun at home on Sunday.

The Liberty (9-3) continue to be a work in progress as head coach Sandy Brondello merges a group of players who had to be the No. 1 option at various times in their careers but are now responsible for complementing each other. The win over the Mystics was a “great learning experience,” Brondello said. They’ve had a few such chances since facing the Mystics (8-5) and Sun (12-3) twice apiece in the first quarter of the season. The Liberty are 2-1 in those matchups heading into Tuesday’s game.

Las Vegas (12-1) is off to another strong start to the season as the Aces attempt to reclaim their championship, the first in Las Vegas professional sports history. The Aces have scored at least 90 points in 10 of 12 competitions for a league-best average of 93.2 points per game, six more than the second-place Liberty (and 18 more than the last Lynx in the league). Minnesota).

(L to R) Candace Parker, A'ja Wilson and Jackie Young have a big super-team showdown looming this week.  (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
(L to R) Candace Parker, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young have a big super-team showdown looming this week. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

Their offensive efficiency rating of 114.7 ranks first and their defensive rating of 95.1 is second to the Mystics. They are responsible for five of the top 10 single-game field goal percentages this season. The 18.667-point average winning margin is currently second in league history behind the 2019 Mystics’ 19.462, according to Across the Timeline.

The accolades keep rolling and Mystics head coach Eric Thibault even joked about how smooth things were in Las Vegas with second-year head coach Becky Hammon.

“I think every coach in the league probably feels it – maybe not Becky, I don’t know – where you feel, it might just be a little sharper, a little sharper, [and] not the last two minutes where you have three or four possessions where… they’re not sloppy, but just laid back,” Thibault said.

But the Aces only had two games combined against the other three top teams in the standings and one was their only loss, 94-77, to the Sun. They beat the Sun by six, 90-84, two days before on the road. Those best games on the court have been against the Phoenix Mercury (which has a lot of problems) and Indiana Fever, two of the worst defenses in the league, as well as mediocre Seattle Storm (twice) and Chicago Sky. The Storm, Sky, and Mercury all allow for the highest shot percentages.

Five of their games have been between the three most struggling teams: Minnesota (4-9), Seattle (4-9) and Phoenix (2-10). Five of their six biggest margins of victory, all at least 20 points, go to these teams. By Thursday’s first meeting with New York, the Aces will have already finished their three-game series with the Fever, a team exceeding expectations, but certainly not in the crème de la crème. The old-school superteam formed through the draft had the easiest schedule early and will learn more about themselves with New York in town.

Mercury in retrograde

Two things can be true at the same time.

No. 1: Vanessa Nygaard, who was fired as head coach at Phoenix on Sunday, had an incredibly tough hand when she took over the Mercury. His “Big 3” held two big personalities in Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. And then shortly after being named head coach in early 2022, she learns that her All-Star Brittney Griner is being held overseas. The US government later determined that she had been wrongfully detained. It’s a blow to their chances on the pitch and has clearly had an understandable impact on the players’ mental health and well-being.

No. 2: Mercury’s struggles go beyond those issues, and Nygaard wasn’t leading the team in a winning direction. They were a WNBA Finals team in 2021 and are at the bottom of the pile 18 months later. The front office was ready to see what she could do with at least her big back in the lineup, but with that still not working out, it’s time to move on.

There isn’t much green on the Her Hoops stats page for the Mercury. They have a top-five field goal percentage (44.1%) and are third in points per goal attempt (1.09), but rank second to last in points per game (77.2). Their offensive rating is 10th, net rating is last, and their rebound rates are rock bottom.

(L to R) Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Sophie Cunningham, Moriah Jefferson and the Phoenix Mercury have struggled so far this season.  (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(L to R) Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Sophie Cunningham, Moriah Jefferson and the Phoenix Mercury have struggled so far this season. (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Defense was the most glaring problem, allowing a defensive rating of 88.4 points per game and 107.5, the worst in the league. Any coach or player will tell you that this is the side of the ball that is most driven by will and desire. It takes dedication and commitment. That the Mercury defense has been lacking is a remark on the players as well as the coach.

Nygaard and the players have been challenging arbitration in recent weeks, and that may have some merit. But little has been done to improve the league’s lowest turnover rate (19.9%, 17.6 per game), second-worst assists-to-rotation ratio (1.10) and third-worst steal rate (61%, 5.7 per game).

To use another coaching cliche, control what you can control. Nygaard and the Mercury didn’t do that. Now, assistant Nikki Blue will make her interim debut Tuesday night with the Dallas Wings in town. Phoenix is ​​on a four-game slide with losing margins of at least 15 points. Only four teams had longer skids, according to Across the Timeline.

Reaction of the week…what am I saying, of the month…of the year?

Look at that again. And even. And even.

The reactions to the video itself are also gold. We repeat, give Sydney Colson a reality series.

Chelsea Gray will make her fifth All-Star appearance next month when the Aces host the annual game. She is joined as a starter by teammates A’ja Wilson, who will captain with Breanna Stewart, and Jackie Young.

Weekly status report

Brionna Jones will miss the remainder of the 2023 season for the Sun after rupturing his Achilles in a non-contact game against Seattle. The 6-foot-3 center underwent successful surgery on Friday. It’s a blow for a team that is used to losing one of its starters to injury. Head coach Stephanie White placed guard Rebecca Allen in the starting lineup in Jones’ absence Thursday night.

Veteran Guard of the Mystics Kristi Toliver is out for at least another week after the team announced she would miss two weeks with a lingering foot injury. She is battling plantar fasciitis and traveled to New York to meet the team. Thibault said it was good to have him on the team as a sounding board for the guards and another voice. She was seen pleading the case with the referees for her teammates on Sunday at the Barclays Center.

Liberty Reserve Center Stefanie Dolson will miss “weeks, not days,” Brondello said Sunday. Dolson, who suffered an ankle injury but no tears, Brondello said, was moving around the Barclays Center on a leg scooter and his ankle in a walking boot. New York signed Epiphany Prince to a hardship contract.

Mystics second-year forward Shakira Austin took a bad fall off Liberty’s sideline in the fourth quarter and had to be taken to the locker room by a coach and Natasha Cloud. Thibault said after the game it was a sprained hip and the team will “evaluate him when he returns” to DC

Lynx Lottery Picks miller diamond returned to training on Sunday after missing nine games with a sprained right ankle. Head coach Cheryl Miller said the rookie “tends to” play Tuesday night. It should be cleared by doctors.

WNBA Ranking

The four best host playoffs – Aces (12-1), Sun (12-3), Liberty (9-3), Mystics (8-5)

There could be an upset as the top four face off this week. The Aces have yet to face Liberty or Mystics until later this week. The top three are all on winning streaks of five, four and three games, respectively.

Make the playoffs – Sparks (7-7), Wings (6-8), Dream (5-7), Fever (5-8)

The Fever are in the post-season phase! As much as Indiana fans might want another lottery pick for the incoming draft class, it might not be the worst thing to slip into the playoffs and gain that experience. There’s a lot of talent that could come out of the draft, and there’s no guarantee Caitlin Clark will come out this season as she has an extra year of eligibility. The Sparks have beaten the Wings twice this week to climb to the top.

Lottery – Sky (5-9), Lynx (4-9), Storm (4-9), Mercury (2-10)

The Sky have been on a six-game losing streak since June 9. They include four combined games against the top four teams in the standings.

What to watch this week

Tuesday – CBS Sports Network

The Liberty and Sun announce the evening on NBA TV (7 p.m. ET), followed by a doubleheader on CBS Sports Network. The Storm and Lynx play at 8 p.m. ET and the Mercury will look to win in Blue’s 10 p.m. ET debut against the Wings.

Wednesday — NBA Television

It’s another camp day game with the Sparks traveling to the skies (noon ET). Los Angeles scored at least 90 points for the fourth time this season when the Sparks took on the Wings on Sunday. They are 4-0 when scoring at least 90 points and, curiously, 0-2 when scoring in the 80s.

The Dream and Mystics board at 7 p.m. ET.

Thursday — Take an evening nap

It’s time for the West Coast to potentially shine with all three games at 10 p.m. ET, led by the first superteams meeting on Prime Video. Fever-Mercury is on NBA TV and Lynx-Storm is on CBS Sports.

Friday — ION

It’s revenge day for Mystics and Dream (7:30 p.m. ET) and Sparks and Sky (8 p.m. ET). The games will be available in the region.

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